140 Planning Ahead or Looking Back?

Based on research by Van Boven, Leaf & Ashworth, Laurence (2007), written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS

When you were a kid did you count down the days until your birthday?  Do you remember all the excitement you felt anticipating the upcoming event?

Social psychologist Leaf Van Boven and marketing specialist Laurence Ashworth teamed up to further understand the emotions involved in anticipating or looking back on an event. They evaluated four different types of events: ones that were positive, negative, routine, or hypothetical.  In all cases participants reported more intense emotions when anticipating an event, rather than looking back on one. For example, participants completed a questionnaire two weeks before Thanksgiving, and two weeks after Thanksgiving. This included questions asking them “how happy will this upcoming Thanksgiving make you?” compared to “how happy did this past Thanksgiving make you?” Results revealed the anticipation of Thanksgiving Day made participants happier than reflecting upon the past holiday.

This study shows the influence anticipation can have on well-being.  When you want to boost your mood, plan something you enjoy. Call up a friend and set up a lunch date, or pick out the movie you want to go see during the weekend. The act of planning and looking forward to the event itself will help you increase your happiness!


Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: anticipation is more evocative                than retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(2), 289.

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